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Baseball: love of the game—and life

My 10-year-old son has had a hard time this season. His baseball team hasn’t won a single game. They are among the youngest players in their division and have a high percentage of inexperienced players. But they have a great coach, and over the season they’ve improved dramatically as individual players as well as a team. Yet my boy still grew increasingly discouraged with the game and even started talking about playing a different sport next year.

The other night on the way to a game, I tried to explain to him why I love baseball. How it is a thing of beauty to me. The sound of a bat connecting with a ball. A perfect pitch. A good play. The patience and focus. The grace and rhythm. It’s hard to explain, I said, but there are times it takes my breath away.

So, it's not about winning, I told him, not that winning isn’t important. It's about playing the game—it’s about finding joy in the game itself, whether you win or not.

Glancing at him in the rearview mirror, I could tell he didn’t get it. But baseball wasn’t done with him yet.

It happened at the bottom of the last inning. His team was getting beat pretty bad. My boy was second up to bat and got walked to first base.

Then the catcher fumbled the ball and my boy—who loves to run and runs like the wind—stole second base. The very next pitch, the catcher fumbled again and my boy stole third and—when the third baseman missed the throw—my boy stole home.

It was one of those sweet moments in baseball. My son couldn’t keep the smile off his face. His team didn't win, but that didn't matter. When I looked at him the rearview mirror on the way home, he was still grinning. The conversation wasn’t about another sport, but about the new pair of cleats he wanted. My boy had stolen into the joy of the game.
The next morning on the way to school, we reminisced about the game again and I shared with him another reason I love baseball: it reminds us how to live life. Life isn’t about winning but finding joy in the journey. And in this life we often encounter the greatest joys in our relationships with others and in encounters with Jesus, who’s the one that shows us what love really looks like. The sweetest plays of life, I told him, seem to come when we are loving others and loving God.

As we talked, I could tell he was starting to get it—well, some of it at least. He’s got a ways to go in life just like baseball. He’s found joy in the game, but my hope is that he’ll discover that joy extends beyond pleasure in his own plays to joy in the plays of others—even the opposing team. That he’ll discover the joy in the simple sound of a swing connecting with a ball, a perfect pitch, the guy who makes a throw or catch look effortless, the smell of dust in a slide for home.

And I hope he always finds joy in life’s journey. The power of a good story. The chill you get when you realize our solar system’s star is only grain of sand on the universe’s beach. And belly laughs, holding hands, falling in love, good company and conversations, the satisfaction of a job well done, the unconditional love in a child’s hug, the joy of helping another back on their feet.

But my deepest hope is that he’ll encounter the boundless wonder of Jesus and the Story. For it is in my encounters with Jesus and that Story which wraps around him that I have found epiphanies, meaning, discovery, joy and possibilities for love and purpose that constantly surprise me in the way they are beyond my capabilities to reason up or imagine. It is in those encounters that I have found and experienced the most transforming and unexpected mystery, love, truth and beauty—all of which infuse and enrich everything else. It is those encounters that flicker in the darker parts of my journey. I wish I could explain it better, but there are times it takes my breath away.

Then, glancing at my boy in the rearview mirror again, I remember he’s only 10. He’s just at the beginning of his journeys in baseball as well as life. But, oh, the promise of joy in those journeys. That takes my breath away, too.